“Hitler’s brides” from Finnish Lapland
Hundreds of women in Finnish Lapland had wartime relationships with German soldiers
By Kristiina Markkanen
“Rassisches Treibholz” – racial driftwood – is the term used by Eduard Dietl, commander of Germany’s 20th mountain army corps, AOK Lappland, in reference to the Finnish and Norwegian women whom his subordinates wanted to marry. The year was 1942 and Finland fought in the Continuation War alongside Germany against the Soviet Union.
In 1941-1945 the number of German soldiers in Finland sometimes exceeded 200,000. Couple relationships were established and children were born. However, only a few of the couples were able to get married.
“With very few exceptions, the applications that have been submitted unfortunately involve representatives of neighbouring peoples of significantly lower value. The pictures shown almost exclusively depict racial driftwood, starting with girls showing strongly eastern features, all the way to an ugly ‘bride’ of inferior growth”, Dietl wrote in his guidelines on marriages.
Such women were not acceptable as mothers of German children. The AOK 20 annual report of 1943 reveals that 98 per cent of marriage applications were rejected. The prospective wives did not meet the political or racial standards.
German soldiers were allowed to marry and to produce offspring only with members of the German people. A general prohibition was imposed after the occupation of Denmark and Norway in 1940.
In his order, Dietl repeated the views of Fuehrer Adolf Hitler and the German office of racial policy. Nations were divided into three categories – the master race, or Germans, Germanic nations, and relative nations. Finns belonged to the last-mentioned category.
The marriage rules nevertheless had to be eased as the war progressed. In Norway and Denmark, the Germans actually started to nurture Scandinavian-German offspring by setting up so-called Lebensborn homes for the children of German soldiers. In 1943 marriage was even permitted with a few Finnish women who represented the “Nordic type”.
The rules were eased because the input of the Finns was needed on the battlefield. When Sweden announced that it would not take part in the war, Swedish men were denounced in German propaganda as soft and unmanly. At the same time, the military prowess of the Finns was praised, and there was talk of “honorary Aryans”. However, honorary Aryan status was not enough for marriage.
In addition to the background of the women, the prospective husband’s military rank and his connections were of some significance.
The applications were sent through official channels to Hitler himself, who signed the papers for the marriages of which he approved. According to Hitler, the women did not look particularly beautiful on the basis of the photographs, and he is said to have quipped that hopefully the soldiers who are in love don’t overthrow him when they realise what kinds of women they have married after the initial passion has faded.
This story reinforces the myth that has been established in Finland around the women who consorted with Germans. For instance, in the documentary film Auf Wiedersehen Finnland by Virpi Suutari (see linked story), the morality of some of the women who went along with the Germans was criticised by Kaisu Lehtimäki; Kaisu herself went to Germany for political reasons.
In studies on the war years, marriages and engagements have often been mentioned only in passing. Various rumours have circulated about the relationships, but little actual researched information has been available. Hardly anything has been known about actual marriages. The couples usually settled in Germany after the war and “disappeared”. In practice, permission to marry was given only to the daughters of so-called “good families”, who were often Swedish-speaking, who had sufficiently Aryan features, and whose new husbands were often high-ranking officers.
A few society weddings were held in Helsinki, for instance, with photographs appearing in newspapers.
When Ernst Zuckschwerdt, who served as an aide-de-camp at the German headquarters, married Eva Gripenberg, the daughter of a Helsinki noble family and member of the Lotta Svärd women’s auxiliary forces in the spring of 1943, the event was covered in the Swedish-language magazine Mänads-Revy .
Engagement and wedding announcements published in Finnish newspapers are part of the research material of a recently completed study by the National Archive on the children of foreign soldiers.
With the help of his research group, the head of the project, Lars Westerlund, found more than 200 engagement and marriage announcements, most of which appeared in Helsinki dailies, especially in Uusi Suomi and the Swedish-language Hufvudstadsbladet. Such announcements were rarely seen in Helsingin Sanomat or provincial newspapers.
Based on the announcements and archive sources, Westerlund concludes that there must have been hundreds, if not as many as a thousand marriage applications.
The announcements suggest that Finnish women were particularly attracted to men who served in the Luftwaffe, and in maintenance units of the army. Sailors and a few SS men also seem to have had time for dating. The husbands were usually lower-ranking officers. The professions of the women, if they were mentioned, were often “office workers”, or “office assistants”.
As permission to marry was only given to a few, the best that the more ordinary girls could do was to have an engagement announcement published in a newspaper. Such announcements became marriage substitutes of sorts. Westerlund also believes that one reason for an engagement announcement may have been the discovery that the hopeful bride-to-be was pregnant, and the purpose of the announcement may have been to put an emphasis on the seriousness and honourable intent of the relationship.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 8.5.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
The trip that could not be spoken of (26.3.2010)
KRISTIINA MARKKANEN / Helsingin Sanomat